Toronto FC general manager Tim Bezbatchenko calls it a revolution and the MLS team is rolling out the big guns.
Former league MVP Dwayne De Rosario came back on board Thursday and England striker Jermain Defoe is to be unveiled Monday.
It looks like the Spurs star will be joined by U.S. international midfielder Michael Bradley. While Toronto FC officials twisted their tongue into knots Thursday trying not to say anything about Bradley when asked, AS Roma coach Rudi Garcia spilled the beans by confirming that Bradley is on the verge of joining Toronto.
It represents a remarkable shopping spree, one that should jolt life into both Toronto FC while further adding lustre to Major League Soccer itself.
Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment is shelling out millions to turn what has been the MLS doormat for seven years into a world force.
A club official rejected reports that the combined bill for Defoe and Bradley is $100-million including wages and transfer fees, but the real number probably isn’t that far south.
Like any other sport, the big boys of soccer come with big price tags. And MLS teams may have to overpay to overcome European snobbery.
For a team yet to make the MLS playoffs, Toronto ownership is thinking big — well beyond mere post-season play, according to Bezbatchenko.
“We want to be internationally recognized as a top club,” he said after welcoming De Rosario back at a packed news conference at BMO Field “We want to be competing internationally ... There’s a certain type of player you need to achieve those (goals).”
Defoe, 31, and Bradley, 26, will do nicely.
The 35-year-old De Rosario, a Toronto native who left the club in 2011 after a contract dispute, adds experience, class and local appeal.
Up until now, the only thing world-class about Toronto FC has been its training centre — a $20-million-plus complex that probably rivals all but the top clubs in Europe.
Poor results have led to management and player turnover which have led to poor results which have led to management and player turnover.
MLSE president and CEO Tim Leiweke, who helped bring David Beckham to MLS, is not one for half-measures and, with the backing of the MLSE board, has opened up the vault for Bezbatchenko and manager Ryan Nelsen.
The team has a vision — and buckets of cash to back it up.
“In all honesty it wasn’t a really hard sell when you just tell them where we’re going to go,” Nelsen said in describing his sales job to De Rosario.
Unfortunately for De Rosario, under the MLS salary cap rules, only a few get to cash in.
De Rosario, who ranks sixth on the all-time MLS scoring list with 103 goals, made $654,300 in 2013. He will undoubtedly earn less in Toronto, but said his return to Toronto is about more than money.
“For me right now it’s about winning ... You can’t put a price on that,” he said.
It’s a comment that speaks volumes about today’s De Rosario, who once was all about the numbers on his paycheque. Remember the 2010 goal celebration that saw him pretend to sign a cheque, by way of showcasing his financial discontent in Toronto.
Once seemingly more concerned about the De Rosario brand than anything else, the veteran midfielder has changed his stripes in recent years.
With the national team, he has worn the captain’s armband and, at a Canada training camp in Arizona in early 2013, went out of his way to connect with younger players.
The new galaxy of TFC stars will probably have to build bridges with their lesser-paid teammates. Fullback Ryan Richter, for example, made $34,125 last season while several others made US$46,500.
MLS is a league of have- and have-nots. Most Toronto players will be more acquainted with a Metropass than a Porsche.
Jordan Hamilton isn’t complaining, however. Toronto FC also announced the signing of the 17-year-old academy product Thursday.
“A dream, come true,” said the young forward.
A dream that may include training next to Defoe.
“To be practising alongside Defoe, what more could a 17-year-old ask for,” Hamilton said with amazement.
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